Tonight I ended up with my friend Velinda in the house of an elderly man and his dying wife. I'd never met the man before, and neither had she. How we ended up there is a long story, and not really the point. I think it was Providence, however.
I went along with her on behalf of her church. They had asked her to be a part of a prayer group for the wife. So, at seven, she, I and four other members of her church gathered together around the dying woman's bed, held hands and prayed for her.
Velinda and I had gotten there early, so we had the chance to talk to her husband alone. He's a very sweet man, clearly devoted to his wife. On the wall, we could see a photo of her, looking beautiful. She's had Lou Gehrig's disease for a year or so, he told us. It was hard for him to keep from crying, but despite it, he was obviously grateful to have anyone there to talk to. I think he's just very lonely. His life consists of caring for her. Except for these strangers visiting and a neighbor, he is alone with her all day long.
When we went to see her, she was gaunt and clearly near death, shockingly different from the beautiful woman in the photograph.
Over her bed, he had strung family photos up for her. Next to her bed, on the floor was his little pallet. Although she can't speak, she is still aware, he said, and she grunted in what seemed like gratitude for the company. They've been married 55 years, and he's clearly very much in love with her.
She is expected to die this week.
I left moved by what I saw, however, somewhat sad. It's a sadness I've been carrying around for a long while.
I can't help but think, watching so much death unfold around me, about my own death. As I've mentioned before here, my aunt's been living with my mother and myself for a while. She recently lost her husband, and it's pretty clear she's lost the will to live.
My own parents are making plans for their death now. I'm staring at the living will on the desk in front of me in fact.
I've been caretaking for my mother since the day I was born it seems. In less than a month I will have a birthday, one I'm not looking forward to. I am now the age that my mother had her first heart attack and open heart surgery in fact.
Death is very much on my mind.
This couple tonight has children and a family. It seems like a normal happy family. He's been happily married for 55 years. And yet this poor man is so lonely. That is what old age is like, loneliness, even with 3 children and 8 grandchildren, no one really has time for him. People are busy. That's how it is.
When I get old, I can't help but wonder, who will be there? I can't help but fear that it will be no one.
I'm an only child, so I have no immediate family. My extended family has never been close to me. (They don't approve of being gay, or for that matter the fact that I associate with black people). Friends are great, but I know all too well that they disappear...even when times are good. It's something that the old man reminded me of, specifically, in fact, unprompted. "You can count your friends on one hand," he told me. And despite all my very earnest attempts, my "romantic" life has ended in little more than rejection.
I guess for everyone death is a scary great unknown, but it's the time before death that really scares me most I think.